From the issue dated February 4, 2005
Researchers rushed a rigorous study of Iraqi civilian casualties into print. Is that why it was dismissed as pure politics?
By LILA GUTERMAN
When more than 200,000 people died in a tsunami caused by an Asian earthquake in December, the immediate reaction in the United States was an outpouring of grief and philanthropy, prompted by extensive coverage in the news media.
Two months earlier the reaction in the United States to news of another large-scale human tragedy was much quieter. In late October, a study was published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, concluding that about 100,000 civilians had been killed in Iraq since it was invaded by a United States-led coalition in March 2003. On the eve of a contentious presidential election -- fought in part over U.S. policy on Iraq -- many American newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buried reports about it far from the top headlines.
The paper, written by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and Baghdad's Al-Mustansiriya University, was based on a door-to-door survey in September of nearly 8,000 people in 33 randomly selected locations in Iraq. It was dangerous work, and the team of researchers was lucky to emerge from the survey unharmed.
The paper that they published carried some caveats. For instance, the researchers admitted that many of the dead might have been combatants. They also acknowledged that the true number of deaths could fall anywhere within a range of 8,000 to 194,000, a function of the researchers' having extrapolated their survey to a country of 25 million.
But the statistics do point to a number in the middle of that wide range. And the raw numbers upon which the researchers' extrapolation was based are undeniable: Since the invasion, the No. 1 cause of death among households surveyed was violence. The risk of death due to violence had increased 58-fold since before the war. And more than half of the people who had died from violence and its aftermath since the invasion began were women and children.
Neither the Defense Department nor the State Department responded to the paper, nor would they comment when contacted by The Chronicle. American news-media outlets largely published only short articles, noting how much higher the Lancet estimate was than previous estimates. Some pundits called the results politicized and worthless....